How to develop your informal network in the organization
Published (updated: ) in Leadership and Soft Skills.
Much of the real work of companies happens despite the formal organization. Often what needs attention is the informal organization, the networks of relationships that employees form across functions and divisions to accomplish tasks fast. These informal networks can cut through formal reporting procedures to jump-start stalled initiatives and meet extraordinary deadlines. But informal networks can sabotage companies’ best-laid plans by blocking communication and fomenting opposition to change unless managers know how to identify and direct them.
The skills of creating these social links can help you achieve career goals and grow inside the company. With informal links, managers can optimize their work by spending less time overseeing reports providing additional value to the projects.
Before we start
1. Accept networking as part of the job. Your reputation and the strength of your network are as important as your performance. People who know and trust you are vital to building your career. Power plays are a corporate reality, so you should proactively develop your network.
Just like friendships, establishing a strong network doesn’t happen overnight. Dedicate time to grow your network before you need it since it’s one investment that pays compound interest over time.
2. The importance of give and take. Giving and taking are building blocks of social relationships. Start by helping others rather than asking for help. At the same time, stay attuned to lopsided “taker” relationships and consider weeding them out.
3. Diversity is the name of the game. We naturally gravitate toward people who are like us. Yet this tendency can foster tunnel vision and undermine the value of our network. Top-performing executives have diverse but very select networks of relationships from different spheres and across the corporate hierarchy.
Four steps to foster your network
1. Participate in a professional community. Many informal “communities of practice” dissolved because of globalization and growing access to the Internet. Today, expert communities are an actively managed part of organizations, with specific goals, accountability, and executive oversight. To get experts to dedicate time to them, companies ensure that communities contribute meaningfully to the organization and operate efficiently. Set aside real time for community participation. Studies show that leaders spend up to 17% of their work time on community activity.
2. Take training. Pieces of training organized by the company are one of the best ways to meet new people with similar interests or functions. Whether training is online or offline, spend a couple of extra hours chatting with other students informally.
3. Visit face-to-face events. Every big company holds events of its own: sports games, parties, or conferences. Face-to-face contact fosters trust and connections as members need to ask for help, admit mistakes, and learn from one another.
4. Make good use of social media. Often you’ll meet new colleagues on Linkedin or Twitter instead of the office. Start slowly and engage on the platforms you find comfortable. For example, participate in relevant LinkedIn and Facebook groups by asking and answering questions; spend time in Telegram calls listening and sharing information; join a Twitter chat. These tools can spark insightful and thought-provoking dialogue.
Remember, networking is a mix of social activities: collaboration, small talk, and written and oral communications. It’s not only about meeting new people but socializing and working together.